An inside look at Logan Airport’s security operations

‘Security is everyone’s responsibility and we all recognize that and step up’
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

BOSTON— On the morning of Nov. 17, two security officers used extended mirrors to sweep under his Massport vehicle, checking for bombs, and they carefully verified our identification credentials before the tilt gate opened and my host, Tom Domenico, director of IT operations at the Massachusetts Port Authority, could drive us onto the airfield at Boston Logan International Airport.

As the radio cackled with directions to arriving and departing planes, Domenico explained some of the limitations at Logan. First of all, the entire airport is extremely restricted in terms of available space, so that “the only growth is up,” he said. The airfield itself is virtually an island with the Port of Boston as its closest neighbor. Massport owns, operates and secures both the port and the airport and Domenico pointed to white buoys in the harbor that surround the airfield, which indicate restricted areas to how close vessels can come to the airfield. As we drove around the perimeter of the seven-mile airfield, he pointed out the fire station that is staffed 24/7 and enables fire crews to respond to an incident in less than two minutes. Because birds can threaten planes, there are propane cannon guns that are used to keep birds out of the area.

Despite physical constraints, the airport is under nearly constant construction with significant future expansion plans. A 3,000-space parking garage, for example, was recently completed in just six months. And the airport is constantly evaluating how to best use its limited resources.

Michele Freadman, deputy director for corporate security at Massport, is charged with measuring metrics for the airport’s security program to ensure that the airport’s people, processes and technology are as effective and efficient as possible. “Performance metrics are activity-based, but are really the pulse of operations,” she said. After all, 10 percent of the airport’s entire operating budget is security, so it’s critical for the security department to demonstrate the effectiveness of its investments. The airport utilizes a center of excellence, where it partners with technology experts to test the viability of the security components it’s considering implementing.

Technology is a big piece of the airport’s security strategy. Domenico said Logan was the first to implement the advanced imaging technology equipment and the second to begin using the enhanced screening techniques required by the Transportation Security Administration. The mentality of Logan’s security team is largely about being progressive and ahead of the curve in terms of technology and processes. “We’re focused on emerging technologies,” said Bill Hall, manager of access control systems for Massport. The airport utilizes several different forms of biometrics, which it always couples with other identification methods. For example, every access point into a restricted area of the airport requires a badge, personal identification number and biometric component. Plus, the airport has cameras constantly monitoring all doors. To ensure these systems are functioning properly, Domenico said the system runs diagnostic checks twice a day. If issues are present, the airport’s primary integrator, Schneider Electric, has eight full-time technicians on site for maintenance and new project initiatives.

Because there are so many stakeholders involved in securing the airport, there has been a major emphasis on cooperation and relationship building. Every single day since Sept. 12, 2001, the airport has conducted an 8:30 a.m. security meeting. The day Security Director News attended the meeting, more than 50 stakeholders were present, ranging from airport operation personnel to the FBI, Coast Guard, Customs & Border Protection, TSA, Massachusetts Police as well as a representative from every airline carrier.

The airport also strives to constantly evaluate and improve the way these entities work together. In June 2009, the airport completed construction on a new emergency operations center located in the Massachusetts State Police Department Troop F Headquarters. Recently, the airport conducted an active-shooter tabletop drill at the EOC. These drills always result in lessons learned and ways to refine the operational and communication processes among the various parties, said Major Michael Concannon of the Massachusetts State Police. For example, during initial exercises in the EOC, it was discovered that when decision makers left the main EOC to discuss how to proceed, they were constantly having to run back and forth for updates. To solve that problem, they installed a scallop camera, which is mounted in the back of the room and transmits a 180-degree view as well as audio, to the decision-making room. Because the scallop camera is made up of several different cameras forming a single picture, the viewer can zoom in on one area of the picture.

But there are still more challenges to face. Hall said the airport is always seeking new ways to use and integrate technology to solve its problems. For example, it has recently begun using an off-the-shelf sensor on critical doors to identify and alert security staff of piggybacking and tailgating incidents. While having this type of technology in place is important, it’s equally critical to ensure that employees are properly trained and aware of the dangers of piggybacking. After all, security at Logan is considered a shared effort. “Security is everyone’s responsibility and we all recognize that and step up – it’s all of our responsibility to protect the airport,” said Domenico.